If you really want to know what is going on today, as it relates to the future, keep your eyes on the visible Church and its leadership. The Bible is very clear that a major sign of the Lord's return is connected to the apostasy or departure from the historic Faith. After all, if the Church rejects the true Faith and embraces a false one, you have the seeds of deception and a willingness to embrace a false Christ or anti-Christ. This was the pattern in place during our Lord's 1st coming when our Lord was rejected and killed by the visible Church at the time. Surely, we are seeing that same pattern unfolding today through the Biblical confusion and movement away from the Christian Faith by growing elements within professing Christendom. One of the places where we are currently watching this unfold is in the ministry of Pope Francis. Since Pope Francis was elected to his office on March 13, 2013, the Pope has been at the center of regular controversy. From the beginning of his papacy, the Pope has made numerous statements that have left many Catholics and other Christians completely shocked and uncertain about the Pope's orthodoxy.
As an example, in the last few weeks the Pope has made a variety of public statements that have left people wondering if he even believes in basic Catholic doctrine like the existence of Hell or most recently that homosexuality is sinful. These doctrinal issues represent foundational Catholic and Christian beliefs that have defined orthodoxy for the last 2000 years. Those beliefs are found throughout Catholic statements of faith as found in the Council of Trent and the official Catechism of the Catholic Church. Regarding the reality of Hell, the Catechism states in Section IV-1035,
The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire". The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.
The Catholic Catechism goes on to state the following about homosexuality under section II-2357,
Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered". They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
So, IF the Pope has rejected those basic beliefs on any level, whether public or private, he has moved outside of Catholic orthodoxy and technically is no longer Catholic, regardless of the office he holds. That must be true because no Pope has the power to change the Faith and reject foundational Catholic beliefs. As a result, it surely is possible for the Pope to not be Catholic. The idea that the Pope is not Catholic in his beliefs may seem impossible to most people on the face of things. However, based on Pope Francis's current beliefs, we are apparently coming to some sort of crisis in the Catholic Church regarding how to define the Catholic Faith anymore. Can a Pope that may be moving away from foundational, Catholic teaching really be Catholic and can that individual define the Faith for over a billion Roman Catholics?
Now surely anyone can be misunderstood about something they say. We can all be taken out of context and we must give the Pope the "benefit of the doubt" about his statements and orthodoxy. However, just being elected Pope doesn't make you a Catholic Christian nor does it guarantee that you are faithfully representing the Catholic Church and its historic doctrine and beliefs. We must be willing to accept that it is possible for any Pope, present or future, to NOT be Catholic. We must also be willing to look at these issues as it relates to all Christian groups be they Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox. Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves deeper questions that go beyond the current Pope and his controversial statements. After all, are all Baptists really Baptists? Are all Lutherans really Lutherans? Are all Methodists really Methodists? Are all Presbyterians really Presbyterians? Are all Greek Orthodox really Orthodox?
Just because someone uses a label to identify themselves as a Christian may ultimately prove nothing. Anyone can call themselves Catholic, Protestant or any other label for that matter. But what does that really mean? The current problems with the Pope's possible lack of orthodoxy are critical issues for anyone who professes to be a Christian. We must ask ourselves if it is possible for people to reject the divinity of Christ, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection or any other area of Christian belief and remain Christian. These current issues force every professing Christian to examine their faith and really ask whether our faith is real, Biblical and a part of the historic Church.
We clearly are living during a time when the Lord's Church is being overrun by a wave of cultural Christianity that seems to have less and less in common with the genuine Faith spoken of in the Bible. Cultural Christianity can often be nothing more than people looking for a label to define what they want to believe. That "faith" may not have anything to do with the real Lord and His Church. That is true because the real Faith is not defined by us at all. Real faith is defined by the Lord, the Bible and subject to the historic beliefs that are established by the Church. The Christian Faith can never be defined for redefined by someone's opinion or a cultural revisionism that may try to adapt some belief to current culture. Without those precautions in place, every leader and/or group may try to redefine the Lord and His Church into some "Golden Calf", according to their own image, as Israel tried to do at Mt. Sinai in Exodus 32:7-8.
As we watch this growing level of apostasy taking place within the visible Christian Church, we clearly see the words of our Lord Jesus and His "Parable of the Weeds" unfolding before our eyes. Our Lord told us to expect this as He shared in Matthew 13:24-30,
Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared."The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?'"'An enemy did this,' he replied."The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?'"'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'"
As we watch the power of culture changing the Church, we need to remember our Lord's words. We can't stop apostasy, nor can we create a pure Church on our own. Only the Lord Jesus Christ, the True Head of the Church, can stop such apostasy and movement away from the historic Faith. Only the Lord can protect, preserve and build the True Church. That said, our Lord calls all of us, whether Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, or however we define our faith, to seriously examine ourselves and what we really believe. Does the Lord and Savior we believe in truly save sinners from sin and Hell? Is our faith the real one and does it line up with what the Bible teaches? These are hard questions, but questions that every genuine believer should be willing to ask at this critical hour.
If ever there was a time to test the spirits out there and see whether they are from the Lord or not...it is NOW! May our Lord's Church prosper and grow in this critical hour as we continue to proclaim and live out the Faith once delivered to the Saints (Jude 1:3-4).